Media Phones: Wave of the VoIP Future?

Chip giant Intel has begun advertising the glories of media phones, a new product category that melds the latest Internet technology with the age-old desk phone. Although the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company is hyping its Atom processor, the move could also fuel wider adoption of IP calling by business.

The nexus of Intel and IP phones come as chipmakers seek new markets to replace their PC business, which has fallen off a cliff. Meanwhile, like the old jalopy on a brand new road, fewer than half of companies with IP communications networks have also adopted IP phones.

A media phone is marked by a large (6-to-10-inch) touchscreen, a speakerphone (typically IP-based) and an always-on Internet connection. In addition to providing a wide variety of telephony features—and this is the key—they have the memory and processing power to support multimedia collaboration and run off-the-shelf and custom-written software applications, such as time-and-billing programs.

Almost 10 million business media phones could be in place by around 2013 with a market worth $3 billion each year, according to market research firm In-Stat.

A media phone’s touchscreen can also serve to display messages—a valuable feature for IP phones that may include hundreds of features, In-Stat researcher Keith Nissen told Enterprise VoIPplanet.

Such phones will control the mid-level to high-end market for IP business handsets over the next four years, according to Nissen.

OpenPeak's OpenFrame Phone
OpenPeak’s OpenFrame Phone

“Business media phones will replace the middle and high-end IP telephones and will be targeted at multimedia applications requiring the always-on, high-performance operation delivered by desktop phones,” Nissen wrote in a February 2009 report entitled The Media Phone Has Arrived.

The phones are expected to appear slowly initially and then build up steam as the year progresses, with “tremendous growth potential” in hospitality. Potential uses could be at a concierge desk and then, eventually, as an in-room service, according to the research.

But the new phones will be particularly helpful in convincing businesses with hybrid IP installations to swap out the old desktop phone for a more robust media phone. It will take more than newer technology to convince holdouts. Rather, the deciding factor will be “does it make communications better, easier,” said the analyst.

The Polycom VVX 1500
The Polycom VVX 1500

“Convincing businesses to upgrade to IP phones is dependent on offering greater functionality and benefits,” said Nissan. Just 40 percent of IP PBX systems also require IP phones, according to the analyst.

However, the rate of adoption by business is likely to not follow that predicted in the consumer sector. Unlike AT&T or Verizon, which subsidize the cost, the price tag of a business-oriented media phone could surprise those accustomed to spending between $150 and $300 for an IP handset.

Unlike the $200 Verizon Hub or the $349 AT&T Manager media phone, business-oriented media phones, such as Polycom’s recently-unveiled VVX 1500 can cost up to $1,099.

Polycom describes its new product as “the first business media phone that combines advanced telephony, one-touch video, and integrated business applications into a seamless, lifelike experience.”

Avaya's 9670G Media Phone
Avaya’s 9670G Media Phone

Polycom’s product targets executives, offering CEOs all the latest bells and whistles. However, there will eventually be many levels of media phones spanning a wide range of prices, according to Nissen.

However, title of “first business media phone” should go to the ProFrame, a media phone from Boca Raton, Fla.-based OpenPeak, Nissen said. The ProFrame, introduced in January, uses Intel’s low-powered Atom processor.

Avaya, on the other hand, earlier this month told Enterprise VoIPplanet its 9670G desk phone was the “first media phone” for business.

Whichever phone wins the prize of ‘first for business.’ it’s too soon to know the real impact of these newly fledged products. However, their introduction may provide the impetus for enterprises to fully embrace an IP future.

“IP PBX vendors desperately need this,” Nissen told Enterprise VoIPplanet. However, it’s not certain businesses will adopt media phones. If companies do not see the apparent benefits of a multimedia IP phone and upgrade, the growth of unified messaging could stop in its tracks, the analyst warned.

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